22 Tips to Save Time and Money on Car Rental
You’ve been scrimping and saving all year, and you’ve finally got enough together up to take the family on a well-earned holiday. Maybe you’ve decided to go on a week long road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road, or maybe a fly-drive trip around New Zealand. Wherever you’re going, the last thing you should be doing is wasting your hard earned dollars on filling up the pockets of big multinational corporations. So today I’m going to let you in on some of the secrets of the car rental industry, and how to take advantage of them to either save money or get a better deal. Spend a few minutes reading these tips and I guarantee that you’ll be better off!
– Updated 2017 –
1. Don’t book with a travel agent
Travel agents work on commission. That means they make more money if they sell you a more expensive car. Or they may push you towards a car rental company that offers them a higher commission percentage. Booking car rental yourself is easy and literally only takes a couple of minutes.
2. Book well in advance
As with flights, hotels and most other things, demand for rental cars increases as the date gets closer. If there aren’t many cars left, the rental companies can charge however much they want. This especially applies at peak periods like Christmas, Easter and school holidays. Book as far in advance as you can, and you’ll usually get the best rates.
3. Use comparison sites
Websites like VroomVroomVroom and BargainWheels make it quick and easy to compare all the major car rental suppliers against each other on the one screen. I’ve tested both, and you can search, compare and book in less than 2 minutes! You’ll even receive a confirmation number via SMS so you don’t even need to print anything out.
4. Pick up from the city, not the airport
Picking up your hire car from the airport depot might be the most convenient, but did you know that you could be paying up to 40% extra PER DAY on your rental? In many cases it’s much cheaper to get an airport drop-off service, taxi or train to the city and pick up from a depot there. Don’t believe me? Try searching for yourself and see the savings!
5. Fill up before you drop the car back
If you don’t fill up your rental car before you drop it back to the depot, the staff there will happily do it for you. They’ll also charge you up to twice the regular pump price for the privilege. Fuel is expensive enough these days; don’t get suckered into paying even more for it.
6. Choose an economical car
Do you really need that huge luxury rental car? Choose a car with a smaller engine size (or a hybrid, if it’s an option) to save money on fuel.
7. Don’t pay up front, in case you need to cancel
Many suppliers and comparison websites don’t make you pay a deposit up front, which means you can cancel any time without penalty. Plans can change, so think twice about companies that make you pay a deposit up front.
8. Make sure you take photos and mark all damage
Take photos all around the car before you leave the depot. If you can, use a camera that can time and date stamp the photos. Be sure to mark any damage, no matter how small, on the damage sheet before you sign anything. If you return the car with any damage that needs to be repaired, you’ll not only be up for the cost of the repair, but also for the potential lost rental fees while the car is getting fixed. A simple $500 repair could end up costing you thousands!
9. Be sure you have enough insurance
Your rental car will include some sort of basic cover, but you’ll have the option to reduce your excess by paying an extra fee when you pick your car up. However, you may already be covered for this excess! If you booked with a credit card or have travel insurance, check the conditions, as these sometimes include cover for rental cars. If you’re already covered, this could save you $20-$40 a day!
10. Weekend or Weekly rentals may be cheaper than individual days
Most suppliers have cheaper rates for “weekly” or “weekend” rentals; that is, you take a car out for a full 7 days, or for the entirety of the weekend. If you’re renting for 6 days it’s worth comparing a rental for 7 days – it may actually be cheaper!
11. Don’t pick up the car until you need to
When you do a search for rental cars the form will usually be pre-filled with times, e.g. 10am. This means that if you’re renting for a day, you’ll have to return the car by 10am the next day to avoid a huge surcharge. If you don’t need the car until a later time, then book it for that time (e.g. 1pm). This will give you more time to drop it back. Keep in mind that most suppliers charge in 24-hour blocks.
12. Consider buying a GPS
Here’s one that you may not have thought of before. If you’re renting a car for a longer period, it may be more cost effective to just buy a new GPS. I recently spent 15 days driving around the south island of New Zealand, and at the daily rate of $9/day it would’ve cost me $135 to hire a GPS. Instead, I bought a basic GPS unit for the same price, and then sold it on eBay for nearly the full price! It saved me about $100 and only took a few extra minutes effort.
13. BYO baby seat
Like GPS units, car rental companies will charge you an extra daily rate to hire a child seat. If you’re hiring a car for more than a few days, it may be worth taking your own baby seat. Some airlines will let you take one for free; others may charge around $20, but it will save you a bundle in the long run.
14. Look at relocation options
If you’re flexible with dates, have a look at relocation rentals. People are always renting cars and dropping them off at different depots. This means that suppliers need to relocate their fleet, which can be very costly. Most suppliers offer $1 relocation deals, where you relocate the cars for them! The major downside is that you usually have to do it within a certain timeframe, so you can’t book these in advance. It could make for a great spontaneous road trip, though! Instead of calling suppliers to request relocation deals, use a deals site that regularly updates relocation offers from suppliers all in the one place!
15. Make the most of rewards points
Most rental car companies have agreements with frequent flyer programs. Don’t forget to quote your frequent flyer number when booking. If you also earn rewards from your credit card, you can double up!
16. Check where you can take the car
Suppliers have restrictions on where you can and can’t take their vehicles. They may not allow you to take them into some remote areas, across borders, or off-road. Be sure you know where you stand before you book, so you don’t get charged any excess!
17. Avoid one way rentals
If possible, drop the car off at the same depot that you picked it up from. Even if it’s in the same town, you may be charged a huge extra relocation fee for returning your car to different depot.
18. List drivers so they’re covered
If more than one person is driving the car, be sure to list them on the rental agreement. If an unlisted driver has an accident, you may find that you actually have NO insurance cover! Don’t risk it. Most companies don’t charge any extra for listing multiple drivers (as long as they meet age requirements etc).
19. Hire someone else’s car
Websites like Drive My Car and RideEco offer an interesting alternative to traditional rental car suppliers. People that don’t use their cars can put them up for other people to rent! You could find just the car you’re looking for, and you could save quite a lot of money.
20. Rent an older car
All the large suppliers (Hertz, Avis, Budget etc) have fleets of cars that are new or near new. The downside is that YOU are the one paying for it. There are plenty of smaller local suppliers that have fleets of older cars (3-4 years old) which are just as reliable, but cheaper.
21. Be aware of toll charges
It’s an unavoidable part of life that most large cities have toll roads. Rental car suppliers have differing policies on tolls; some will let you pay a daily fee to cover them, some will charge you for the tolls plus an administration fee, and some will let you use your own transponder. Make sure you check with the supplier beforehand, and be sure to pay your tolls so you don’t end up with a nasty fine.
22. Check again, last-minute before you go
Because you can cancel most bookings without penalty, it’s worth doing a last-minute check just before you leave for your trip. You might find a supplier that has lots of spare cars and has slashed the price.